“Art In The Blood Is Liable To Take The Strangest Forms”

"Mycroft Holmes was a much larger and stouter man than Sherlock."

"Mycroft Holmes was a much larger and stouter man than Sherlock."

The Greek Interpreter is another of those stories which ends with Watson telling us how a newspaper article closed the case; it is also a story in which the central mystery is so straightforward that Holmes – nay, even Watson – can guess its general narrative after only the initial consultation. The story of an interpreter taken to a mysterious house and forced to persuade a starving prisoner to sign documents whilst promising he can soon see an unnamed woman, the whole adventure is over almost as soon as it is told: the unfortunate Greek is being threatened in order to give his sister’s property over to her new, violent and English paramour; she knows nothing of it and is shocked to discover her brother in her new comfortable country pile.

Where the story gets its spark of life, of course, is in the introduction of Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft. A man whose deductive powers are superior to the great detective’s, Mycroft is a civil servant who lacks the physical energy of his brother. This is his principal failing, and it is his idle solution to the interpreter’s problem – an advert in a newspaper clumsily asking for information about the missing Greek – which leads the mystery to unravel fatally. “Sherlock has all the energy of the family,” Mycroft shrugs at one point, and despite the more dynamic Holmes’s protestation that much of the human condition is genetic, one is left with the very real sense that what Watson calls his friend’s “systematic training” is very much at the route of his particular skills: Mycroft has a keen power of observation, but is unable to turn it towards practical ends; Sherlock’s principle strength, meanwhile, is not his skills of deduction per se, but more his remarkable success in developing a hobbyist’s parlour trick into a means of detection.

We also learn for certain that the Holmeses are descended from country squires, and also from the sister of Vernet. Doyle crowns all this hokum with the creation of the Diogenes Club, a London gentlemens’ club for gentlemen who hate socialising. The image of rooms dedicated to silent misanthropes reading the latest periodicals whilst studiously ignoring one another is as curious a one as appear in the Holmes stories. Indeed, Mycroft is in general a slight oddity in the canon, eliminating as he does Sherlock’s uniqueness, which until this point was surely uncontested. It is nice to think that Holmes has not just his matches but his betters; but it is a little weird to imagine that one of them is related to him, unless he suppose that their childhood games involved scrutinising people and guessing their business. (There must be some fanfiction to this end somewhere.)

The Greek Interpreter is beyond these curios a minor and perfunctory tale – unsurprisingly, the Granada TV version added a whole section to the story’s end in which the brothers and Watson chase the villains and apprehend them, eliminating that frustrating newsaper story and adding some actual forward momentum to the narrative. A colourful new character, alas, does not a story make.

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